Tuesday, August 11, 2009

No, I Don't Want You to Pray for Me!

By Meredith LaFrance

All I wanted was a day to myself—undisturbed and relaxed. But this is reality and in reality we hardly ever manage to get exactly what we want. Life is chaotic, unfair and insensitive to our feelings.

Saturdays and Sundays are my days off. Saturday I awoke with a headache, a queasy feeling in my stomach and way too many thoughts—not really a prerequisite to a laid-back day. Thus, I was delighted to wake up this morning (Sunday) headache-less and feeling refreshed. I stayed in bed until 11 or so, writing and zoning out, until I finally decided to detangle myself from my covers, shower, get dressed, and meander down to the bus station.

Now, when I want to shut everything out and not think about my life, I jam my sound-blocking ear buds into my ears, blast the volume and just go where I need to go. I can listen to music from most genres. Except country. Aside from The Dixie Chicks and Johnny Cash, I can’t say I’m a fan. Today I decided to disappear into the world of The Cranberries, DJ Sammy and The Postal Service. When I’m plugged in, I can ignore just about anything—drunk bums in need of some spare change, middle schoolers milling around outside the public library and, most importantly, the unnecessarily rude stares at my arm and the subsequent whispering and pointing.

Well, I took the number 12 to the Gateway Mall, bought a ticket to see “Angels and Demons” at the dollar-fifty and then proceeded to Target to pass the time. Then I moseyed over to Ross Dress For Less. I was milling in the housewares section, intently reading the label on some sort of cheese grating/lemon juicing/egg separating contraption that I briefly considered buying when I found myself face-to-face with two teenaged males and a small boy. I stared at them for a moment, confused and slightly annoyed about having been pulled out of “Meredith World.”

“Yes?” I queried nicely.

“Hello,” said one of the teenaged boys.


“We were wondering if we could pray for your arm.”

That was it. No preamble, no nice inquiry about how my day was going, nothing.

“Um, excuse me?” I was still holding the grater thing and I suddenly had a burning urge to throw it at his face. But I’m a good-hearted, tolerant person.

“Can we pray for your arm?” he repeated. “Because we’ve seen stranger things than that and seen them heal and it’s been a miracle.”

I’m floored. I am far from religious—not an atheist per se, but I certainly don’t believe there is any one god up there intent on fixing people’s problems and making the world a better place. We all have issues and we should be the ones working to fix them. I believe in myself and I believe in others. That’s all the faith I need.

The only other time anyone has prayed for me, to my knowledge, was back in high school. My friend said a prayer for me before a trumpet audition. I bombed the audition. If there is a god, the last thing he/she cares about is my nonsensical life.

Anyway, I stood there for a few seconds, stupefied and offended. Firstly, I was not in the mood to speak with anyone. Secondly, I make a point to avoid people who try to shove their religious faith in my face. For instance, I used to hide behind the couch with my siblings when Jehovah’s witnesses came around. Case in point.

I wanted to ask these boys why they thought my arm was so appalling. And why, exactly, did they think it need healing? And um, hello, I was BORN this way, and while you can pray until the cows come home, I am not miraculously going to grow three more fingers and a “normal-looking” arm simply because a few people decide to add me as an afterthought to their evening prayers.

But I’m not an angry person. So I simply smiled and said “No thank you.” After a few moments of hesitation, as if they thought I might change my mind and suddenly become enlightened, they left me alone. I wanted to walk around the store a bit more and check out the rugs and tables, but each person I passed looked at me sadly, and I knew they all pitied me. I hate being pitied. I couldn’t handle it so I exited the store and escaped once again into my musical world.

Is there a God? Who knows. Nobody knows. But I do know that if there is one, He/She doesn’t give a flying f**k about my arm. I’ve lived with it for 20 years and when I wake up each morning, it’s still there. Not a day goes by when I wish I could hack it off and replace it with an arm that looks like the next person’s. But hey, this is who I am so I might as well just deal.

Sure, I’m insecure about my deformity, but only because inconsiderate people like those three boys walk this earth. I’ve been laughed at and felt loneliness and sadness that many people will never understand. I’ve been called names like T-Rex and Stick Woman and I’ve spent a good amount of time explaining to a few kids that I’m not actually a monster. Almost always I am able to smile and sometimes laugh a little and then move on, just like I did in Ross today. I’ve given up being bitter towards others because it’s the world that is messed up, not me. It’s just slightly bothersome that while I am wholeheartedly able to accept other people for who they are and not how they appear, people are so unwilling to accept me.

I do not love my arm; it is simply "there." However, it does not define me. I am so much more and yet so many people can’t see past the surface. I am a competent, strong, intelligent, happy, loving person. All I’m asking is to be a part of this society and for people to stop trying to fix me. Because I’m not broken.

And please, keep your prayers to yourself. I do not need them.

Thank you for reading.

Writer Meredith LaFrance is a student at the University of Oregon.

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